While sexologists have suggested the consent app would put a damper on sex life and impede sexual skills, legal professionals have warned that electronic consent won’t hold up in court, rendering the app sparked by a controversial “consent law” useless.
The app iConsent has hit the Danish market a few weeks after parliament passed a much-debated law that classifies all sex without formal consent as rape. Failing to obtain consent before engaging in intercourse may result in criminal charges.
According to the founders, the purpose of the app is to ensure that both parties agree to have intercourse.
“It works in such a way that the user can enter the phone number of the person he or she wants to have sex with. You send the request, and the other is then given the opportunity to accept or reject the request for consent to sex”, developer Carsten Nielsen explained to Danish Radio.
The given consent is valid for 24 hours and is limited to sexual intercourse.
Nielsen agreed that it may feel strange reaching for a phone in an intimate situation, but, in isolation, so is putting on a condom.
“So yes, it’s controversial, and maybe even weird. But maybe it will feel more normal in a year’s time”, Nielsen said.
The “safe sex” app, however, instantly aroused criticism from specialists.
“The app is definitely not the solution to obtaining consent. A sexual relationship is not about a contract, so it’s a step in a completely wrong direction from the needs that are out there”, Lene Stavngaard, the national head of Sex and Society, told Danish Radio. “The consent app cannot be seen as a supplement to oral consent. What we need to ensure is a better sexual language for how we can give and receive consent, among other things through better sex education”, Stavngaard suggested.
The developers argued that the app is designed to create security for both men and women. Men in particular can use the app if they are accused of a rape, where the evidence often rests on testimony.
Defence lawyer Morten Bjerregaard, however, countered that consent from the app won’t stand up in court and thus won’t have any great legal significance.
“One must be very aware that the consent only applies as long as both parties are willing. This means that if one party agrees changes their mind along the way, then it becomes somewhat of a duty. I therefore don’t believe that an app solves the argument that the consent has been withdrawn along the way. The initiative is probably well-meant, but legally it is not solid proof”, Morten Bjerregaard told Danish Radio.
Both Sex and Society and Morten Bjerregaard warned that electronic consent may weaken people’s awareness of whether consent is still there when the act begins.
“I doubt that the app will gain much traction. The road to sex will be awkward, and also I don’t see that it is going to change that much”, Bjerregaard said.
The app sparked a backlash among Danish politicians. Among others, the Social Liberals legal spokesman Kristian Heegaard called it a “scandalous misunderstanding” of the law.
Clinical sexologist Jesper Bay-Hansen is also sceptical.
“It is a skill to read others sexually, so if we move it to an app, we let go of the opportunity to learn that skill. I also fear that we are desexualising our sex life. That we get too little passion and too much jurisprudence.
Understanding that we also sometimes read each other’s signals incorrectly is also important”, Jesper Bay-Hansen told Danish Radio.
“So, we shouldn’t even communicate as human beings anymore? Consent comes through words and through sexual behaviour. This app makes us sound like we are animals”, renowned playboy and reality TV star Jeppe Risager said.
In adopting the consent law, Denmark followed in its neighbour Sweden’s footsteps. Sweden was the first Nordic nation to introduce a “consent clause” in 2018, opening the possibility of conviction for “negligent rape” due to failure to obtain specific consent. Since then, Finland has also chosen this route.
While an increase in rape convictions was reported following the “consent clause”, it was not without controversy as legal professionals warned it would sophisticate legal proceedings and jeopardise justice by risking innocent people getting jailed.